11.30.2013

Strange how things change

In my last post I mentioned how much I appreciated letters I receive from worshipers. Another gift that I frequently get is cartoon cut-outs from magazines and newspaper articles. One that I remember well was "Far Side" style comic with a picture of a traditional church choir getting set up in the choir pews. Behind the choir in a closet with the door open is seen the choir director cuing up the karaoke track in the sound system before heading out to lead worship. The caption said something to the effect of "the choir never sounding better the Sunday the director incorporated the art of lip syncing." (...had to be there, I guess.)


What the comic assumed was that anyone reading it would find it humorous that a church would ever try to pass recorded tracks as proper worship music for congregational singing. Strange how things can change in a matter of a few years.

The Church at Clarendon in Arlington, Virginia hired DJ Hans Solo from Atlanta to help with an experimental worship service coined "Church Remixed." The Pastor was concerned that many of the younger members in the church didn't have the opportunity to hear music in worship that was familiar to them. He wanted to offer something that was more their style. The Pastor and DJ Hans Solo met at a private party in Atlanta and chatted about their common interest in dance music. From there the Pastor hired DJ Hans Solo as an alternative to a worship band for their new service. At the first service, DJ Hans Solo played a mix of contemporary Christian worship music and secular music before and after the service began. The Pastor asserts that more churches should consider hiring a DJ as an affordable alternative to live musicians.
This obviously isn't the one I was talking about
but it is one of my favorites!!!

Surely this is only being considered in the edgiest of churches, right? 

Consider St. Mary the Virgin church in Mudford, Somerset, England. The parish has implemented an electronic feature for their pipe organ that contains karaoke versions of over 3,000 hymns. The claim is that the quality of church musicians has declined significantly enough for their town that this kind of option is not a luxury...it is a necessity! The congregation and choir literally sing to a karaoke version of the hymns in order to have worship whenever the organist is unavailable. 

More and more churches are finding it impractical or out-of-touch to have the run-of the-mill church musician leading worship. The 4000 year old tradition has finally lost its novelty. Apparently the trend is to be more like a dance club that parties for Jesus. 

So, yeah...the comic strip isn't as funny to me anymore...and I'm a little worried about that. Should I be?

Psalm 33
Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.

11.21.2013

Speaking of an encounter with God...

One of the most cherished gifts I receive in ministry is the occasional hand written note from a church member. Sometimes the note includes words of encouragement. Sometimes the note includes words that seem like suggestions, but are really complaints in disguise. I have to admit, I choose to say that I 'cherish' these letters because I don't always 'like' to read them. But, I cherish these letters because I know that these people are expressing their passion and desire to be close to God. That is worth taking precious care and time to read every word!

On occasion I receive a note that speaks of an encounter with God. I've found that these notes are usually written by people who have been through  difficulty that cause them to question  themselves, God, or someone they love. Whatever the situation may have been, these folks came to worship seeking God's answer. These folks come with open hearts and desperation to hear God's voice. They recognize their weakness, and recognize God's strength. 

Recently it seems that many of my friends and family are struggling with traumatic situations: the sudden loss of a loved one, serious illnesses, and strained relationship that lead to hard questioning and personal faith crisis. Some of these folks are truly seeking to hear God's voice. Unfortunately others are rejecting God exists. I wonder what kinds of letters they would write. What passionate words would they use to express their pain and joy. Would they write encouraging words? Would they write complaints in disguise? What would it take for them to find themselves writing a testimony of healing?
Advent begins in a couple short weeks. This is a season of anticipation and hope. A season when the church celebrates the promise of God coming to us from heaven. He is coming to bring healing, restoration, and life everlasting. What a wonderful opportunity to offer our questions to God! If we are willing to recognize our own pain and prepare to walk to the manager to lay our offerings before Jesus this season, we can trust that God will meet us there. 

What kind of letter would you write if you wrote one today? 

11.26.2012

I have Doubts - Understanding Worship

I have temporarily lost my wife to an audition for the play "Doubt: A Parable". For years she has wanted to play the role of Sister James who is played in the movie adaptation by Amy Adams. If you know my wife, you'll understand that she will be taking on a character that is significantly different than her own. Sister James tends to see life through a rather simplistic perspective...and my wife...well, let me just say that one time she made me save a stray cat that was stuck in a tree using a ladder that was too short, a broken tree branch, and a can of wet dog food. It took hours and hours...but as I'm writing this the cat is purring in my wife's lap across the living room from me.

Well, I realize that I, too, would love to see life through a rather simplistic perspective...but I can't...and I'd like to blame God for that.

In "Doubt" the movie, the director uses a gust of wind to signify the dramatic changes that are looming in the church. One small change is the inclusion of a secular Christmas carol in the children's pageant as a way to be more appealing to the people. Everyone enjoys "Frosty the Snowman" so why not include it in the pageant?

What I've come to realize is that there have been significant shifts in the church in what the purpose of worship is. Some aspects are very positive, some...I believe could have a spiritually detrimental impact on our relationship with God.

Here is the contrast:

Traditional protestant understanding of corporate worship
The purpose of corporate worship is to provide an undisturbed opportunity to serve God. It is to be designed so that those involved might participate in expressing their gratitude through music, prayers, and preaching. Corporate prayer and singing provide the most consistently significant way of uniting people in their expression as it encourages us to confess with our mouths (lyrics) and believe in our hearts (music). It is based on the word of God and therefore, has an eternal impact. Everyone present is responsible for the service. The ultimate goal is to unite the body and to re-establish the church's relationship with God. The arts aid this process by providing opportunities of corporate expression of faith that proclaim Jesus is Lord. This means that, psychologically speaking, art's primary value is to usher the church in the correct mind-frame to serve others.

Modern protestant understanding of corporate worship
The purpose of corporate worship is to provide an undisturbed opportunity to experience God. It is to be designed so that those involved might experience emotional healing through the music, prayers, and preaching. Well written and thought-provoking sermons provide the most significant impact. The church staff and lay leaders are responsible for the service. The ultimate goal is to provide healing for those who are hurting, and to serve the people as Christ served others. The arts aid this process by allowing for people to "get lost" in their worship. This means that, psychologically speaking, art's primary value is to put us in the correct mind-frame to hear God's message and receive His blessing.
(BIG GUSH OF WIND)

The power in "Doubt" is that the show does not dictate how the viewer should perceive what is happening. Are the changes good or bad? Is it guilt or misunderstanding? Is the church responsible to teach people to write using ink wells and quills or is it time to switch to ball point pens (I may have lost you here...but if you know the show...you'll understand)?

So...what do you think? Is the change in our understanding of corporate worship a good one?

Perhaps I just want it resolved so I can have the simplicity I've always wanted...a solid understanding that everyone can agree on...so that we can just get down to the business we've been created to do.

8.28.2012

Creative Design Ministry

Last night our Creative Design Team met for the first time launching the start of a new ministry for our church. This group of seven will meet once a month to create new and authentic ways of nurturing worshipers to get engaged in responding to God's worship.

Pintrest.com - search creative church decor!
This past Sunday our Senior Adults Pastor preached a powerful sermon on Nehemiah 6. At the end of his sermon he called the church to respond to their commitment to Christ by coming forward and hammering a nail into large timbers of wood. We purchased horseshoe nails and a member of our WA ministry had rugged looking timbers left over from yard work. The nails were a little expensive...and we weren't sure too many folks would participate...so we purchased 250 for $20.

At the end of worship, our Senior Adults Pastor gave the call to move forward as the choir sang, "Oh, Draw Me Lord". To our great surprise and God's glory, hundreds of folks came forward. The sound of the hammers banging as we sang together created a holy haunting in our sanctuary space. The feeling of the Spirit was overwhelming. Folks knelt on the steps and wept as they nailed into the wood of the cross. It was a powerful corporate expression that demonstrated something special about our church's spiritual journey. God is moving in our church.

Custom fabrics, curtains, backdrops, production supplies and more!
The temptation is to try to recreate that particular experience...to be blessed by that same Spirit again. But what we know is that we can't bottle God. He made us to be creative and when we offer new and real ways of allowing the church to respond to Him, we'll see Him again!

Churchstagedesign.com - AWESOME stuff!
Our meeting last night was exciting. New ideas...new group of people coming together...and a new energy for worship ministries that we haven't felt before. We shared pictures of ways to make the altar more thought provoking, we explored cost effective and practical (and some unpractical) ways to transform our sanctuary space, and (the most exciting for me) we began brainstorming our Advent/Christmas decorations.

I wanted to share with my readers some of the resources we uncovered over the last several weeks that have helped to induce creativity for us. Click the pictures to go to some of the most creative sights for us (I have to say...Pintrest has been awesome for finding ideas for our altar!). Feel free to post other ideas and let's share creativity as we all try to glorify God in a way that He truly deserves!!!

4.04.2012

"I Deserve To Be Loved" - How Homosexuality is influencing Christianity

You may have already read the viral blog post entitled, "I'm Christian unless You're Gay" by Dan Pierce on his blog "Single Dad Laughing." Well, a follow up has just been posted including a powerful letter from a gay teenage boy that is lighting people up all over again. Click here to read this post.

Although this topic doesn't immediately address worship issues, I wanted to respond in a way that does...because it seems that in the case of Homosexual v. Christian, we are forgetting one very important thing - we don't make the rules. God is God. We can interpret particular scriptures whatever way we choose to interpret them...but when we forget that we worship a God who gave His life for us so that we might know love...that's when it becomes an issue of whom or what we worship.

In the case of Homosexual v. Christian, I believe that Christians have to adjust the way we think of homosexuality. Not to claim purity or righteousness for the lifestyle necessarily, but to recognize...well...that they are friggin' people!

However, generally speaking everyone needs to change perspective about Christianity, too. For an example...Christians don't deserve love. It is true. None of us. We fail miserably all the time at simply being decent human beings. In fact, Christians are the same as homosexuals when it comes to "deserving" love.

When homosexuals use the argument, "I deserve to be loved as much as anyone else" they are correct...but in a totally different way than most people realize. It is elitism for anyone to think that they deserve love. Love is a gift. It comes with a great price. In order to receive love...it must be given. In order to truly give love...you must have received it. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for someone. And until this concept of love seeps deep into someone's heart...until someone realizes this has been done for them by God...then that someone will always reserve "love" for those who in their minds "deserve it".

Homosexuality is not to be used as a measurement for love...nothing is. We don't deserve it! The good news is...LOVE has been given to all of us if only we would receive it. Then our job is to spread it unsparingly to EVERYONE we encounter...not because we deserve it....but because it makes God happy (and it makes all of us happier people too). This is a great article...a great letter...but Christianity is not a religion of people who are perfect love. It is a family of people who recognize and spread God's love. AND everyone can join in the cause!

Who do we worship? Do we worship the feeling we get in our stomach when someone addresses and issue we don't agree with? Do we worship the idea we have of God? Or are we truly looking at the entirety of scripture in understanding who we worship?

Christians "deserve to be loved as much as anyone else"...but in a totally different way than most people realize.

3.28.2012

God Still Heals

She must have been close to 70 years old. Her joints were probably really hurting her as she moved throughout the sanctuary. The other ladies dancing with her were only a few years younger, but for me, there was no greater tribute than her offering. I connected with her dance. I thought of all of the excuses she had not to do it. She could be offering prayer for folks instead, sitting still in a quiet room with someone searching for peace. Her body could rest. I could tell by her dance that she understood what it means to worship the Lord. It was obvious that she was experienced. Certainly after all of those years serving no one would blame her if she felt like she had "done her time" and just sat with the congregation. But instead, she was glowing with praise. It was as if you could see in her face that she'd rather be doing nothing else in the entire world.

You can't teach that kind of worship...and yet, here we were...surrounded by a church in worship who, with their particular flavor, was worshiping unapologetically. At the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, they are connected to a heritage that understands there is nothing in this world that can sustain us better than Jesus Christ.  Their story fuels the various expressions in worship at their church, and gives integrity to the concepts of redemption and salvation. Some might see difficulties and struggles as a reason to spend time in quiet healing, but FAME is praising God in the face of trial. And they believe that God can heal them. They believe it so much that even the seniors were willing to make themselves vulnerable by using their bodies to praise the Lord - as if to say "My aging body will not keep me from praising Him." In a way, God was healing them in real time!

The song they were dancing to...."God Still Heals"

"I'm a living testimony to the fact that God is real. I guess you're wondering how I know this. Well, I once was sick but now I'm healed and I know that it was nothing but the grace of God. I know that it was nothing but the touch of God. I'm alive today to testify that God still heals." (

She believed it. Her face showed it. And as she danced down the center aisle of the church, she used her dance to bless the congregation...to dance the blessing of God on the people in worship. It is difficult to explain, and I know that not everyone would have seen it the same way I did...but I saw it. It was intentional worship.

1.04.2012

"I'm dreaming of a Jazzy Vesper!"

Richmond, VA from the east side of town.
So...it has been a while since I've posted...but I'm sure you'll understand when I say this Christmas season was extremely busy. In addition to the usual stuff...my wife and I surprised family by traveling home for the New Year holiday. It was great to visit our old stomping ground in Richmond, VA. We went to church with friends and family...and spent a lot of time doing all the things we never did when we lived in River City! (If you're ever there...stop by the Poe Museum...pretty cool stuff.)

I know it is called "vacation"...but no matter how hard I try...I never really stop thinking about folks at church. Even simple things like driving down the street can suddenly spawn thoughts that keep me up half the night thinking about exciting new ideas for Sunday morning. And it wasn't much different "vacationing" in Richmond.

Here is a picture of something that reduced the number of hours I slept while "vacationing". Before posting this picture, I questioned whether or not I should Photoshop out the telephone number and website...but figured if they were confident enough to put it on a banner...they wouldn't mind me posting it on my blog and sharing it with folks.

I'm not gonna go on a rant about all the things this banner says to me about consumerism in church...or delve into deep thoughts about all of the possible characteristics of a "Jazz Vesper" (which made me giggle thinking about Bing Crosby singing Christmas songs in church)...I'll even fight the temptation of revisiting all of my previous postings about gimmicks that trick people into going to worship...but I can't help but try to figure out why churches do this sort of thing. And I think I've got it.

I had a great conversation with my father this week about corporate worship. It was good to talk "church" with him. We explored the gifts of the church and how personalities influence church growth. In our conversation, my dad helped me realize something that I hadn't quite figured before. Romans 12 worship...has negated Rev. 4 worship for most churches. I've said similar things before...but it sorta hit me like a ton of bricks this week. Pastors are much quicker to preach about serving others than they are about how to express appreciation to God. I don't blame them I guess...if I wasn't such a worship nerd...I'd probably rather hear a sermon about how to positively influence someone else's life than how to engage in prayer with others (who might not be motivated to pray with me).

Perhaps churches aren't really seeing worship gatherings as anything more than a means by which we train people to serve others? Perhaps it is too difficult to actually move people to passionately sing/pray/dance/read the bible and...since the Great Commission doesn't mention doing those things...well, we can probably do without it and still make it to heaven...right?

Whatever the case...I'm intrigued. Perhaps the next time I'm home...I'll find out what a "Jazz Vesper" is? Yeah...that's a great idea. I'm sure it would be a positive influence on my sleeping habits.

Question: Would you be more interested in learning from your Pastor about 1) HOW to WORSHIP...or 2) HOW to SERVE others?